Oh, how quickly things can change within the span of a year.
No, I’m not referencing the fact that Darren Carrington -- a former Oregon Duck who caught the game-winning touchdown pass last season against the Utes -- has landed on Utah as his transfer destination. Instead, we’re talking about what was a position of strength last year, but will most likely be a weakness this year -- the Utes offensive line.
Every season brings with it new challenges and question marks. Similarly, there’s things that teams and fans are confident about, and last year, that was the offensive line. With the likes of Garrett Boles, Isaac Asiata, Sam Tevi and J.J. Dielman anchoring the unit -- all of whom have signed NFL contracts -- there wasn’t much to worry about.
However, all of them have departed Sack Lake City (let’s hope that moniker isn’t reversed into Giving-Up-Sacks Lake City), leaving the Utes with a group that is largely untested. That’s not to say it’ll perform poorly, but the odds are stacked against the offensive lineman at this point.
In the depth chart released on Monday by the team, the current starting line is slated as (from left tackle over) Jackson Barton, Darrin Paulo, Lo Falemaka, Jordan Agasiva and Salesi Uhatafe.
Of them, Barton (17 games) and Uhatafe (39 games) are the only ones that have played meaningful snaps, while Falemaka was on his way before an injury derailed his season in 2016. Meanwhile, Paulo has only played one snap on the offensive line, while Agasiva will be the freshest face of the group with no game experience.
To say that experience will be an issue is an understatement. With the offensive line being one of the most important units on the field, this could prove to be detrimental for the Utes. That said, the new offense that new coordinator Troy Taylor is implementing at Utah -- should it work -- could help shoulder that problem by getting the ball out of the quarterback’s hands quickly.
All that said, the Utes have found themselves in worse positions on the offensive line in years past. Having Barton and Uhatafe anchoring down the left and right sides of the line, respectively, will help, as both have game experience, but neither jumps off the page as a physical leader like Bolles and Asiate were.
Maybe the unit will be a pleasant surprise by season’s end. With the new offense, the limited experience on the line really might not matter all that much. At least that’s what I’m going to tell myself until Aug. 31.
Time will answer all of our questions, I think, so let’s just see how things play out.